Celebrating greatness

“Ray” opens this weekend…

Mr. Hackford trusts the audience’s taste and intelligence enough to assume that we are most interested in learning – in hearing – how Ray Charles went from Nat King Cole-style crooning to a raucous fusion of gospel and blues and beyond, treating the whole range of American vernacular music, black and white, sacred and secular, urban and rural, as a cornucopia of musical possibilities.

We hear a lot of what he made of this bounty, and “Ray” lets us appreciate Charles’s genius and eclecticism in a way that no CD boxed set could.

But what makes “Ray” such a satisfying picture, in spite of some shortcomings and compromises, is Mr. Foxx’s inventive, intuitive, and supremely intelligent performance. That this erstwhile comedian possessed formidable acting chops was evident even back in the days of “In Living Color,” but it was not always clear how far he would go in developing them.

It’s clear now. He has mastered Charles’s leg-swinging gait, his open-mouthed smile and the tilt of his head, as well as the speaking style that could sometimes sound like a form of scat singing.

But there is much more than mimicry at work here. In his best big-screen performances – as Drew (Bundini) Brown in Michael Mann’s “Ali,” for instance, and as the young quarterback in Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday” – Mr. Foxx has displayed an intriguing blend of quick-wittedness, bravado and sensitivity, and his recognition of those qualities in Ray Charles is the key to his performance.

You get the sense that he is not just pretending to be Ray Charles, but that he understands him completely and knows how to communicate this understanding through every word and gesture, without explaining a thing.

From The New York Times.


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